What is Montessori Preschool? #2

May 2008
The second in a multi-part series about the history, philosophy and teaching of Montessori education.

The Critical Preschool Years

“The psychological study of children in the first years of life opens our eyes to their wonders—which can leave a profound impression on the person who sees it, with understanding, for the first time. Our job as adults does not consist of teaching so much as helping the child to become interested in his own development.”
--Maria Montessori

The absorbent mind.
The field of early education has now accepted what Maria Montessori discovered many years ago: Children under the age of 6 have extraordinary mental powers. They have a universal ability, at only one point in their life, to absorb the knowledge of their surroundings simply by living in it. They can extract everything from their environment-- the physical space, the language, the movement of adults and other children-- using what Maria Montessori called “the child’s absorbent mind.” The absorbent mind is in its greatest development during the preschool years.

For the children under age 6 to be happy and at peace, they need to explore and discover. They see the world through “new” eyes and this is what captures their attention about the world around them. They learn by touching and manipulating objects—they want to touch everything! They have a great enthusiasm for everything that stimulates their senses: sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes. They also respond to order due to their internal need to know how everything fits together and where each thing belongs in that order. They wish to be in control of their own body movements, learning to have balance, to walk, to run, and to jump. And they are fascinated by the customs and traditions of those around them.

Thanks to the absorbent mind, preschool age children do not need to be taught directly in order to learn. The Montessori preschool environment allows them the movement, the touching, the manipulating and the exploring of their surroundings that they crave. It gives them the freedom to chose their own work without the intervention or direction of an adult. In the Montessori environment, they learn to work in an independent manner, based on their own needs and own initiative, in order to nurture self-discipline and concentration.

Before Maria Montessori made these discoveries about the absorbent mind of preschool age children, many subjects were not included in their education. Subjects such as geography, grammar, geometry, botany and zoology were only taught in a limited form and/or only taught to older children. But Montessori education revealed the extraordinarily high level of learning, both conscious and unconscious, that can be easily developed in young children.

Montessori education at a young age not only increases the child’s current learning; It also establishes the child’s learning foundations for comprehension at a deeper conceptual level over the years to come. To see a Montessori preschool in operation, come visit Otoch Paal in Akumal Pueblo. Otoch Paal welcomes visitors who are interested in seeing how a Montessori center operates. Classes are in session from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visitors are asked to come between 9 and 10:30 a.m.

How you can help. As a non-profit community-based learning center, Otoch Paal does not generate sufficient funds to pay for all necessary school improvements. Monetary donations and donations in kind are always welcome. Donations can be made directly at the school. More information can be found at: http://montessoriaroundtheworld.org/otoch.html

Directions: The school is located near the back of Akumal Pueblo, on the Northern edge of the town. It can be reached by following the Pueblo’s main street (avenida) to the fourth block on the right hand side of the street. After passing the secondary and kindergarten schools (which are on the main street), turn right at the corner where the kindergarten is located and continue to the next corner. Otoch Paal is next to the kindergarten and the entrance is at the far corner.

Daily life skills, such as learning how to serve food, having table manners, and cleaning up after oneself, comprise an important part of Montessori learning.

Every learning opportunity is seized upon in the Montessori classroom. During a birthday celebration, the children are taught about astronomy: the birthday child carries a globe and represents "the earth" which he uses to walk around "the sun" (the birthday candles). He walks around the cake once for each year of his life, teaching the children that the earth makes one rotation of the sun over the course of a year.

Respect for nature and the environment are an integral part of Montessori education. Each child has their own plant in the classroom which they learn how to take care of and can see the results of their efforts as the plant grows.

Eleanor Zucker

may 08

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